Tuesday, October 18, 2016

Public speaking at committee

To 'have one's day in court' or just the chance 'to have one's say' seems to have some popular appeal even if the result is a disappointment.  Public speaking at planning committees seems to be based on this rather superficial and limited purpose. If a three or five minute presentation to a planning committee actually affected the way in which a planing application was decided it would probably amount to an unlawful influence over the decision-making process.  In court  evidence can be thoroughly examined but committee procedures are much more 'linear'.

When a committee meets to decide an application it should have available access to all the 'background papers' which are referred to in the officer report which should include the professional analysis or assessment of the application and a recommendation based on s38(6) that the determination be made in accordance with the development plan unless material considerations indicate otherwise; the report having identified and weighed the relevant policies and other material considerations.  The background papers should include all representations received while the application was being processed up to the publication of the committee agenda.  One potential anomaly are written comments received in response to representations appearing for the first time on the agenda and/or to the officer recommendation itself.  However, these late written comments should also be made available at the committee and, in theory, could be addressed by public speakers.

Public speakers are advised not to raise new matters (as this would disadvantage speakers who might already have spoken or have a pre-prepared speech).  This is the correct approach but raises the question of why speak at all if the points have already been made in writing?  Thinking that simple repetition would be pointless, speakers change or embellish their comments.  For individuals this is just a single error.  For those representing parish councils or residents' groups or NGOs changes to the written representations without specific and minuted authority are compounding the error.   For these comments to be taken into account by committee (and why else provide the platform?) could invalidate the decision of committee.

Some councils allow for the speaker to be questioned (supposedly for purposes of 'clarification'). This will extend the period afforded to one side of the argument and the response to a question could only be an opportunity to emphasise a previous point or to make a new point  (without authority in the case of representatives) - both potentially prejudicial to the other parties.  So public speaking at committee seems to be based on a false premise; what is said must strictly repeat previous written representations or be ignored.  Taking late representations into account could invalidate the decision. But who is to tell what  the committee members actually took into account in casting their vote?

On a separate matter, I am reminded that those who want to keep up to date on housing (as opposed to the mainly planning side of these issues)  should register to receive the posts from

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